BANGOR, Maine — Bangor attorney Stephen C. Smith is staring down downtown Bangor, and it’s got the city talking.
About a week ago, a larger-than-life cutout featuring Smith’s likeness appeared in the second-story window of 9 Central Street, overlooking the bustling intersection of Hammond, Central and Main streets in the heart of downtown Bangor.
Passers-by on Thursday gave descriptions of the posed image that ranged from “glowering” and “imposing” to “hilarious” and “amazing.” Just above the picture is the “Smith Law Offices” sign boldly displaying the attorney’s phone number 1-888-8ATTACK.”
After receiving a “handful of complaints” from a “wide cross section of people downtown,” city officials are reviewing ordinances to determine whether Smith’s sign violates any part of city code, Code Enforcement Officer Jeremy Martin said Thursday. That decision should be made early next week, according to Martin.
Smith said he carefully reviewed the ordinances, and does not believe his new advertisement violates any of those regulations. The city’s interpretation of those same ordinances might differ.
The city is reviewing two ordinances. The first, Chapter 260, sets rules and restrictions on signs in the city.
Part of that chapter was revised by the City Council in the past year. It reads: “Window signs shall not exceed 20 percent of the window area on the ground floor street frontage of a premises. Window signs shall not be included in the calculation of the number of signs and sign area allowed for a business.”
Smith interprets that as meaning there are no restrictions on window sign size above the first floor of a building, so he moved ahead with the sign. He said he called the city’s Code Department in advance and that they didn’t like the idea, but failed to convince him the sign didn’t meet the standards under city code.
The other ordinance the city is looking at, Chapter 71, relates to property standards in the Bangor Center Revitalization Area. A provision within that code mentions signs displayed in windows and restricts the size of lettering, but does not mention the size of images.
Smith said vibrant economic activity is vital to a vibrant downtown, and part of that economic activity is creative advertising. He said the ad is intended to depict who he is and how he conducts his business.
As an advertising effort, the sign appears to be doing the job. Pictures of the new poster bombarded local social media circles during the past week. It has become a popular topic of discussion among other downtown business owners, city officials and passers-by.
Opinions are mixed.
Smith said Thursday that he’s heard a lot of positive feedback, including from his fellow lawyers.
“These are my friends as well as colleagues and I got a good-natured ribbing from them,” he said.
Matt McEntee, a 28-year-old Bangor resident, took a break from his laptop inside Giacomo’s to go look at the cutout in the window.
“Hilarious,” he said. “I wouldn’t put it on my business, but still, it’s quirky.”
Brad Ryder, owner of Epic Sports, called the advertisement “eye catching.”
Julie Baker-Leaden, manager at Mexicali Blues across the street, said the “stern” sign might be intimidating for customers walking down the street. She also expressed frustration because small changes in signs at her store often meet resistance or questioning from the city.
Gene Beck of Nocturnem Draft Haus called the debate “silly.” Still, if the city finds it does violate code, Smith should have to abide by the rules just like other downtown business owners, he said.
“But really, who cares?” Beck said.
Other business owners took issue with the fact that Smith didn’t consult with the city’s Historic Preservation Commission before moving forward with the installation of the sign.
Smith declined to say whether he had consulted anyone from the HPC. The commission is scheduled to meet Thursday night, but the Smith sign did not appear on the agenda as of Thursday morning.
Paul Cook, owner of the building that houses Smith’s practice, said Thursday that the sign was put up “without my permission or knowledge.”
Cook said he felt the sign “cheapened the appearance of downtown,” and questioned what precedent it set for the historic district.
“Do we really want every window on the second floor of buildings downtown to be decorated with people and stuff?” Cook said. “You have to have some consistency in how things look.”
Smith said that if the city ultimately finds its ordinance has holes that allow for signs like this, it should take a fresh look at those rules.
Jackie Rogers, executive director of the Board of Overseers of the Maine Bar, said earlier this week that the board would not comment unless a complaint is filed and investigated by the board.
Cook, who owns or partly owns six downtown properties, said Smith has been a great tenant with whom he has always had a good relationship.
Smith has played an integral role in Bangor’s downtown for more than a decade. When he moved his office and home into the downtown building that now houses Paddy Murphy’s around 2000, downtown was little more than a ghost town, he said. He and his wife started the tradition of the downtown New Years Eve beachball drop on the roof of that building.
Later in that decade, he moved his business across the street to its current location and played an integral role in redeveloping the space that is home to Giacomo’s, which he and his wife owned for a time, according to Cook.
“I have respect for a lot of things [Smith] has done downtown,” Cook said. “I just disagree with what he’s done here.”